Haaretz reports that JStreet and other left-wing Jewish organizations believe they can turn Donald Trump’s nomination of attorney David Friedman to be U.S. ambassador to Israel into a test of their strength on Capitol Hill. But the result of that test may not be what they are hoping for. The notion that a president’s choice for an ambassadorial post can be thwarted because of statements that place him at odds with the views of previous administrations rather than that of the one he will serve is an odd one
The conflict about his publicly-stated opposition to a two-state solution isn’t so much about Friedman as it about the delusions about the peace process that his leftist critics and their media megaphones still labor under. Nor is it one that is likely to arouse much opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate that will be inclined, as is the tradition, to respect a president’s right to choose the people he trusts for key positions.
A large percentage of each president’s ambassadorial choices are assumed to be contributors, political allies or cronies in every administration. That was as true of Barack Obama as it will be of Trump or any other president. The only grounds on which such appointments are generally blocked relate to the integrity of the nominee, which in this case is not in question, and not whether a non-politician like Friedman has always refrained from voicing controversial views. Moreover, Friedman’s status as a friend of the president-elect as well as someone who has been a key advisor on Middle East issues makes him an ideal choice for this posting. Having America’s representative in Israel be someone with a good idea of how Trump thinks and with the president’s ear makes more sense than having some veteran State Department hand who is hostile to the new president in such a crucial job.
But the real issue here is policy.
The two-state solution remains the ideal way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But all too many of those who ritualistically endorse the concept and are appalled at the notion of a skeptic being the ambassador to Israel are unwilling to think seriously about why that scheme hasn’t been put into effect yet. Unlike President Obama and other critics of the Netanyahu government, Friedman rightly understands that the Palestinian refusal to accept peace offers involving statehood is not a minor detail to be ignored or rationalized as his critics have done. It is the real obstacle to peace.
It is an article of faith on the Jewish left that those who are sympathetic to Netanyahu’s government or even the settlement movement—as Friedman is—are somehow opponents of peace. But Friedman’s views reflect an understanding of the reality of the conflict and the views of those who voted for Israel’s government that his critics lack. Israel will, as Netanyahu has repeatedly said, embrace a two-state solution, but only in exchange for real peace rather than a truce that would only extend the conflict on terms that will make Israel less secure.
If Friedman’s appointment signals that Trump intends to cease second-guessing Israel’s sensible refusal to make suicidal concessions and that they will discard the idea that it is America’s duty to save Israel from itself, all friends of Israel should welcome it. The same applies to Friedman’s support for the idea of ending the illogical and damaging American policy of refusing to accept that even West Jerusalem is Israeli territory and the location of its capital. Rather than a sign of extremism, Trump’s tapping of his friend for this post may actually be an indication of a new realism in Washington.